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Hospital recorded 50 times birth gas legal limit

Nitrous oxide levels on Watford General Hospital's maternity suite far exceeded legal limits during peak periods, a BBC investigation has found.

In February 2022, air monitoring showed levels of almost 5,000 parts per million (ppm) - 50 times what is safe.

The hospital's trust said it had since installed machines to remove the gas.

It was one of a number of nitrous oxide incidents reported by NHS trusts to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Freedom of Information data has shown.

The HSE disclosed the details following a request for its notifications under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

There were 11 notifications to the HSE between August 2018 and December 2022 from seven NHS trusts and one private hospital in relation to nitrous oxide - almost all relating to maternity units.

Monitoring has led to a string of NHS trusts suspending the use of Entonox - a mixture of nitrous oxide and air used to assist women in labour with pain relief.

NHS bosses acknowledge there is "limited research on the occupational exposure to Entonox, and the long-term health risks this may pose", though at least one expert has played down the risk.

But staff working in maternity units face uncertainty due to prolonged periods of time spent in affected areas, with particular concerns over Vitamin B deficiency due to exposure.

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Source: BBC News, 13 February 2023


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